(The following story is featured in the July/August 2015 issue of the LCM, which you can read in it’s entirety here. The story was written by Susan Morris, assistant to the director for Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access.)
Follow the journey taken by each of the 300,000 books added to the Library’s collections annually.
Between the time a book is published and a library user reads it, as many as a dozen Library staff members will have handled the volume. They will have made a series of crucial decisions about its acquisition for the collection, analyzed and described it in the Library of Congress Online Catalog and preserved and shelved it so it can be made accessible to readers.To track the path a book takes from arrival to the reading room, we will follow “Crónicas Cuauhtemenses” by Rodolfo Torres González, a volume received from the Mexican book dealer México Norte.
The book arrives at the loading dock in the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building on Capitol Hill. This is not the first stop the book has made in greater Washington. To ensure that books are not contaminated with chemical or biological substances, the packages have already been opened, inspected and resealed at an off-site mail-handling facility in suburban Maryland–like all mail that is delivered to the Library on Capitol Hill. The Library’s mail contractors load the packages of books into upright mail cages near the loading dock and push them to the acquisitions mail room on the basement level of the Madison Building, where Library staff sort them by country of origin.
The book travels to the Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean Section of the African, Latin American and Western European Division to receive acquisitions processing. An acquisitions specialist opens the package of books and verifies that the items received are ones the Library wanted and in good physical condition. The specialist evaluates each book to determine its cataloging priority–a crucial decision that determines how full a bibliographic description will eventually be created for the book. Next, a Library recommending officer determines that the title is within scope for the Library’s collections and confirms the cataloging priority. The acquisitions specialist prepares the invoice for payment and turns the book over to an acquisitions technician, who searches the Library’s Integrated Library System (ILS) to be certain it is not a duplicate of material already received.
The technician also searches the ILS for an initial bibliographic record and creates one if none exists. If no other cataloging data exist for the book, he inserts slips in its pages to show that it needs original cataloging–cataloging created “from scratch” by Library staff. The invoice from the vendor is forwarded to the section head who approves payment. The book is carried to the security marking and targeting station, where it receives a stamp on the top edge to indicate Library of Congress ownership and security targets are inserted, which will cause an alarm to sound if the book is removed from Library premises. The book is now under physical security control, inventory control and initial bibliographic control. It is placed on a book truck and delivered to staff members who have skill in cataloging Latin American material.
A senior cataloging specialist in the Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean Section completes the bibliographic control of the book. She reviews and expands the physical description of the book and determines which individuals and corporate entities were responsible for writing the content and publishing or sponsoring the finished book. She formulates authorized forms of names for the responsible parties and adds them to the bibliographic record in the ILS.
She also analyzes the content of the book in order to assign subject terms, using the standardized, controlled vocabulary in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Very often, the cataloger creates new name or subject terms, in standardized forms, to provide access to cutting-edge research materials in the catalog. Finally, she assigns a classification number from the Library of Congress Classification System (LCC). Books about Mexican history will class between F1201 and F1392 in the LCC.
A cataloging technician adds information to the classification number to produce a complete call number. The call number serves as the physical address where the book will reside. All newly cataloged monographs in the general collections are shelved at the Library’s offsite facilities or in fixed location shelving on Capitol Hill in order to conserve space.
The LCC call number will always remain in the ILS bibliographic record for two reasons: other libraries that hold copies of the same book may want to use LCC call numbers as their books’ physical addresses; and the call number is hot-linked in the Library of Congress Online Catalog so that the Library’s end users can use the call number to launch online searches for other resources about the same subjects. “Crónicas Cuauhtemenses” received the call number F1391.C8835T67 2007, and it is stored in the Library’s offsite facility at Fort Meade, Maryland, where it can be retrieved and delivered to a user on Capitol Hill in a matter of hours.
The cataloged book is forwarded to the inspection shelves for the “Handbook of Latin American Studies” (HLAS) for review by the Library’s area specialist in Mexican culture. She inspects the book to determine whether it should be included in HLAS, the bibliography of publications about Latin America that has been edited at the Library of Congress for more than 70 years. The area specialist decides that this title should not receive an entry in this renowned reference tool. At this point, the book may also be considered for possible assignment to reference collections in the Library’s reading rooms.
Next, the Library takes steps to ensure the book will be available for generations to come. Like most books the Library receives from Latin America, “Crónicas Cuauhtemenses” is soft-covered. It will be sent to the Library’s Binding and Collections Care Division, which will ship it to the Library’s commercial bindery in Indiana. After it is hardbound, the book may be sent to the Library’s mass deacidification contractor near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to neutralize the wood-pulp acid in its pages. Deacidification prevents premature yellowing and extends the life of a book by 300 years or more.
The book has had a long journey from Mexico to Washington, D.C., with side trips to Indiana and Pennsylvania. When the cataloged, bound, and deacidified book is returned to the Library, it is now ready to be provided to the Library’s users in the Hispanic Reading Room, Main Reading Room or other reading rooms in one of the Library’s three buildings on Capitol Hill.
All photos by Shawn Miller